Safeguarding concerns: practice examples

Each community is different, but there are some common safeguarding concerns experienced by faith groups, communities or individuals with a faith background. On this page, we’ve put together some practical advice about how to respond to different scenarios.

Our learning examples are anonymised or composite versions of real situations encountered by people in faith communities. They describe different real-life situations and give the advice of our safeguarding experts. 

Whether you're looking to improve your safeguarding policies and procedures or seeking advice on a particular situation within your faith community, we’ve highlighted the practical steps you and your community can take to help keep children safe.

How these learning examples can help

Our collection of learning examples show a range of different safeguarding issues that could arise in any faith group or organisation.

For each example we provide advice on what to do if you are experiencing this situation and steps you can take to improve safeguarding for the future.

Our learning examples will help you to:

  • identify and respond to safeguarding concerns in different situations
  • recognise similar situations in your own community
  • see the role played by every individual in protecting children within the faith community
  • understand the value of developing and embedding good safeguarding procedures and practice into your faith group
  • know how to challenge and improve your response to safeguarding.

How to use these learning examples

You can read through all of the examples or pick out scenarios that are relevant to a particular concern within your faith community.

They can be read for personal reflection and learning or used in a discussion group with your faith community or in an inter-faith group.

Some questions to consider for each example include:

  • what are the immediate or potential risks to children in this situation?
  • what should the people do in this example to make sure children are safeguarded?
  • how do you think your faith community would respond if faced with a similar issue?
  • is there anything your faith community can learn from this example and do to improve safeguarding?

 Our series of learning examples

Working alone with a child

The scenario

A member of a known Buddhist sangha (community) set up a mindfulness-based counselling service in the front room of his house. The service offered help to people who were seeking spiritual direction in their lives.

He put posters in his window and handed out leaflets locally.

Several people, including some young people who knew him from his Buddhist community, came for counselling.

Following a counselling session with a young person where he was alone with them in his home, the Buddhist counsellor decided that he needed to think about his arrangements for safeguarding young people and himself.

Our advice

If you are offering a child or young person a private space to talk and receive support you should have clear child safeguarding policies and procedures and carry out the appropriate vetting and barring checks.

> Find out more about vetting and barring checks

When working with someone under 18 years old it is safer practice to have another adult nearby, within sight and hearing.

Complete a risk assessment to consider potential risks to yourself and the person with whom you are working and to decide what measures you are going to put in place to help minimise risks or deal with concerns. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) gives more information about risk management.

In situations where having another adult nearby would be inappropriate or intrusive you can make use of other safeguards by making sure:

  • someone else always knows the time and place when you are alone with a child
  • the young person, parent or carer and the person in charge know the reasons for the one-to-one contact and agree for it to take place
  • if you are not able to inform the parent or carer and person in charge in advance that you will be alone with the young person you should do so as soon as possible afterwards
  • you and the young person know what to do in an emergency and how to contact their parent or carer
  • you have access to a phone or can summon help from a colleague by calling out
  • the young person knows they can stop the one-to-one contact at any time and knows how to complain or to get help if they need it
  • if you are alone with a child physical touching is normally best avoided
  • you know when to stop the session should you become aware that the young person is uncomfortable about being alone with you
  • you make a record of the fact that you were alone with the young person giving the reason for this and describing what happened.

If you are not able to put these safeguards in place consider limiting your service to those who are 18 years and older.

Trusted adult convicted of abuse

The scenario

A youth worker at a church has been convicted of committing sexual offences against children over a period of several years.

Concerns had been raised on several occasions about his behaviour within the church community. But the adults in the church found it hard to believe that this popular young man was doing anything wrong.

They trusted him. He was very charming, would converse freely and easily with families and was always eager to help out in church.

But he was also targeting teenagers, sending them text messages containing inappropriate language and in some cases went on to sexually assault them.

The community feels hurt and betrayed and want to know how they can stop this from happening again.

Our advice

People who seek to sexually abuse children can be very clever in their tactics. They will try to build a relationship of trust with the child and may do the same with the child’s family and the whole community. This is known as grooming.

Adults may find it hard to believe that a child they know has been harmed by someone who is part of their faith community. They may not know how to respond to concerns or they may be worried about what will happen to the child, the family, the accused and their community if they speak out.

Having a child protection policy and clear procedures that everyone knows about can be the first step to creating awareness and safety within your community.

A policy will set out your community’s commitment to protecting children and young people.

And procedures provide practical steps on how all concerns will be handled. If these are openly accessible then everybody knows what to do if they have a concern and that all concerns will be handled in the same way.

You should also consider:

> Find out more about protecting children from abuse by someone in a position of trust or authority

A child has an injury

The scenario

A teacher in a madrasah noticed an injury on the hand of a 7-year-old boy in her class. When she asked him about it he hinted that the injury was not accidental. After school she reported this to the designated person for child protection in the mosque.

The designated person met with the boy 2 days later. His injury was healing and he did not say anything about how he got the injury. The designated person felt it was not serious enough to report to social services.

Later it was found out that the injury was caused by his mother who severely physically chastised him for not being able to recite passages from the Quran as expected of him. The boy went on to suffer more serious injuries which could have been prevented.

Our advice

Concerns that a child has been abused or may be at risk of abuse should always be referred to a statutory child protection service: social services or the police.

You can also contact the NSPCC helpline to speak to a trained professional about your concerns or to ask for advice.

The designated safeguarding person in an organisation has a very important role in passing on concerns about children to the appropriate authorities and in developing and maintaining safeguarding policies and procedures.

If there is only one person taking on this responsibility it can be very isolating.

Many organisations opt to have more than one person responsible for safeguarding. This provides a back-up in case of illness or absences and provides someone to discuss issues with. There should also be support from senior management who can provide another avenue for consultation.

Designated safeguarding persons should also take every opportunity to refresh and update their safeguarding knowledge through regular training.

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse

> Find out more about protecting children from physical abuse

Forced marriage

The scenario

14 year-old Taru overheard a conversation between his parents saying his older sister would be taken abroad to be married.

He told his sister who became very upset and distressed. Together they went to a family friend who was teaching them Punjabi at their Gurdwara. She advised them that this was something that should be handled within the family.

Taru was still worried and he felt family members were not going to stop the plan going ahead. He talked to his teacher at school about it.

On his behalf, the teacher contacted the Forced Marriage Unit for help and advice. Taru was anxious about getting into trouble so he asked that his identity be kept secret from his family.

Our advice

Forcing someone into marriage is a criminal offence in the UK. Anyone found guilty of the offence faces a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison. If either party is under 18 it is also a child protection issue.

Forced marriage can happen to boys and girls and reported cases have involved children as young as 8. A child who is being forced into marriage is at risk of significant harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

People working with children should respond to threats or suspicions of forced marriage or honour based violence as a child protection matter and follow their organisational procedures for reporting concerns.

The Forced Marriage Unit provides information, resources and a helpline to advise anyone who is concerned about someone being forced into marriage.

If you think a child is in immediate danger - call the police on 999 or call us on 0808 800 5000, straight away.

Parent shouting at a child

The scenario

A mother took her 8-year-old daughter Rupa with her to the Mandir on a festival day. Hundreds of people were there for the celebration making it very busy and crowded.

At one point during the day Rupa thought she saw her friend and ran off. When she turned around she couldn’t see her mother and started to panic. Her mother was equally worried about where Rupa had gone and when she found her she grabbed her and began to shake her and shout at her for running away. Rupa was crying out but her mother didn’t stop.

Lots of people witnessed the mother’s behaviour. Some had helped her look for Rupa, some were onlookers, but no one said anything about how she was treating her daughter.

A family friend approached them to sympathise with the mother while Rupa continued to cry. Two volunteers at the Mandir watched from afar and discussed the mother’s angry physical and emotional treatment of Rupa but did not take any action.

Our advice

We all share responsibility in protecting children from harm.

Parents can come under pressure and stress for a number of reasons and take it out on their children. If they are not careful it can cross the border into harmful behaviour.

Everyone at your event should feel comfortable reporting any concerns about a child’s welfare to a member of staff or a volunteer. All staff and volunteers at the event should know what to do if they receive a report, see a child who is upset or see an adult harming a child.

Make sure you think about safeguarding in advance at the planning stage of your event.

You should have clear written safeguarding policies and procedures and ensure all staff and volunteers have read them and feel confident following the actions set out.

You may need to supplement existing policies and procedures with event-specific procedures. A risk assessment can help you identify potential hazards that may occur during your specific event. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide information about managing risk.

In this example a clear procedure setting out how to respond to a missing child combined with a safeguarding procedure would have helped the volunteers to know what to do if a child was missing and how to respond to a parent harming a child.

You may want to consider:

  • having a named person responsible for safeguarding children at the event
  • setting up a lost and found area and signpost it clearly
  • ensuring all staff and volunteers wear identifiable clothing or have a badge so they can easily be spotted
  • recommending someone stay with the parent at the place they last saw their child
  • having a clear strategy for searching the area
  • advice on what to do if you see a child being harmed by an adult
  • child protection training for staff and volunteers
  • sharing resources such as our positive parenting leaflet.

> Find out more about running safer activities and events

Child’s challenging behaviour

The scenario

At age 7, Della started to display unusual behaviour at the after-school club based at her local synagogue.

She began picking fights with other children and had several aggressive outbursts with adult leaders. She had become overly possessive of her belongings, not wanting anyone to touch her things such as her school bag. Some of the other children started whispering that they’d seen her with her hands in her pants touching herself.

This behaviour went on for a while before the club leader shared her concern with the child’s mother who became offended and removed Della from the club.

The leader knew a teacher at the girl’s school and made discrete enquiries but nothing happened even though, quite independently, the school staff had noticed similar behaviour.

It was not until the local authority social worker, who received a referral from the family’s GP, contacted the school that the teachers became involved in sharing information to help Della.

Following an investigation in which further information came to light, the decision was made by children’s services to remove Della temporarily from the family home whilst an assessment was carried out.

Our advice

Anyone working with children or young people should be alert to the signs of abuse and know how to report their concerns. A concern could be something you see, something you hear about, something you suspect or something that troubles you. In this case, a sudden change in behaviour would indicate a concern.

An organisation’s safeguarding policy and procedures should clearly set out:

  • who to report a concern to. This is usually a designated safeguarding person or a senior member of the team
  • how the designated person reports to a statutory child protection service such as children’s social care or the police
  • contacts for further advice. This might be a more senior colleague or the NSPCC helpline
  • how to keep clear and accurate records of what was observed or said, the nature of the concern, when and where it was reported. This could be a template form to fill in
  • checking a concern has been followed up
  • contacting the NSPCC’s Whistleblowing Helpline if you are concerned about how child protection issues are being handled in your own or another organisation.

Multiple reports from different individuals, groups and agencies help social workers to piece together an understanding of what a child is experiencing.

A child who is being abused may be afraid to tell or they may not even realise what is happening to them is wrong. So if you have concerns about a child’s safety and wellbeing it is important that you speak out.

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse